Blue Origin successfully completed New Shepard’s first human flight on July 20 with four private citizens onboard, a key milestone in the company’s effort to make space tourism viable.
The crew included company founder Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark Bezos, Mercury 13 aviation pioneer Wally Funk and Oliver Daemen, who all officially became astronauts when they passed the Kármán Line, the internationally-recognized boundary of space. With this successful spaceflight, Funk (82) became the oldest person to fly in space and Daemon (18) the youngest one. Also, New Shepard, according to the company, became the first commercial vehicle under a suborbital reusable launch vehicle license to fly paying customers, both payloads and astronauts, to space and back.
After years of meticulous planning, Blue Origin‘s first crewed spaceflight took off from Launch Site One in West Texas. After a few minutes, the capsule separated from its rocket and continued upwards towards the Kármán line – the most widely recognized boundary of space that lies 100 km (62 miles) up. Soon after, the mission control confirmed that “the capsule has just reached apogee,” and the now unbuckled passengers enjoyed a few minutes of weightlessness at the edge of space.
The 10-foot-tall capsule with large windows and reclining leather seats also offered stunning views of Earth from above the Kármán line. They then strapped back in and began their descent, landing in the West Texas desert three minutes later. The capsule touched back down after the 10-minute, 10-second flight. The crew exited shortly after, safe and well.
The New Shepard booster will return to a landing pad so it can be reused rather than breaking apart in the atmosphere. Reusable rockets are key to lowering the cost of space travel, which could make it more accessible.
It also managed to fly higher than Sir Richard Branson’s effort on VSS Unity on July 11. Virgin Galactic took a similar flight to a lower altitude of 53.5 miles (86 km), where passengers also experienced weightlessness.
Blue Origin expects to fly two more crewed flights this year, with many more crewed flights planned for 2022. The company hasn’t disclosed the expected price of future space trips.